Flooring, Wallpaper Emit Toxic Chemicals, Group Says in Urging Regulations

U.S. homes may contain flooring and wallpaper that emit the types of toxic chemicals the Consumer Product Safety Commission has banned from toys, an environmental group said in urging expanded regulation of the substances.

The building materials may expose kids to chemicals such as phthalates that were banned in children’s products in a 2008 overhaul of the CPSC, said Jeff Gearhart, research director at the Ecology Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan, which today released a study showing emissions from 3,000 products. Lead and cadmium also were found in some products, he said.

“Toys aren’t the only source of exposure,” Gearhart said in an interview. “We really need a broader federal policy reform. We should be looking at chemicals in everything, not product by product.”

U.S. lawmakers, acting over opposition from Exxon-Mobil Corp. and the American Chemistry Council, two years ago agreed to expand a ban to three phthalates, used to soften products such as water bottles and children’s toys. The chemistry council testified in 2008 that risk assessments, including a 2001 CPSC report, found no danger risk to children from the materials. Congress passed legislation after regulators in Canada and Europe acted to impose a ban.

The Ecology Center, saying it was prompted by a lack of federal standards for products used in house improvements, tested more than 1,000 types of flooring items and almost 2,300 types of wallpaper. The project followed an earlier study of toys, car interiors and women’s handbags.

Products containing phthalates can release toxic gas over time because the plasticizers aren’t chemically bonded to the underlying material, Gearhart said. Children also breathe in the chemicals through dust.

Asthma, Cancer Links

Phthalates and heavy metals are linked to asthma, birth defects, learning disabilities, liver toxicity and cancer, the group said. Kids are twice as likely to have asthma if they’re living in such homes with vinyl materials, Gearhart said.

Vinyl building materials were more than seven times as likely to contain hazardous additives, the study found. Vinyl sheet flooring and tiles raised a particular concern. Many natural alternatives, such as linoleum, hardwood, cork and bamboo tested clean, Gearhart said.

“This is a manageable problem,” Gearhart said. “We want them to invest more in alternatives. We know the manufacturers know how to make and market these products profitably.”

The Ecology Center backs an effort by Representative Bobby Rush, an Illinois Democrat, and Senator Frank Lautenberg, a New Jersey Democrat, to overhaul the Toxic Control Substances Act. Rush’s bill was discussed at a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing in July. The Senate version hasn’t had a hearing.

The bills are H.R. 5820 and S. 3209.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jeff Plungis in Washington at jplungis@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Liebert at lliebert@bloomberg.net

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